Friday, December 14, 2007

Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe Review

While working and parenting, I’m normally only able to read about 5 pages of a book at the end of the day (just before my head hits the pillow). However I’m currently working my way through a series of dense, symbolic, almost Proustian books that are keeping me awake a little longer. And they’re – mumble it apologetically – science fiction. The series is called ‘The Book of the Long Sun’ by one of my favourite writers Gene Wolfe.

Having just finished two of the four novels in this series, it could be that I'm being premature by offering a review of them. However, I'm so besotted with Wolfe's prose that I really can't wait.

I bought `Litany of the Long Sun' (the collected volume of the first two books ‘Nightside the Long Sun’ and ‘Lake of the Long Sun’) some time ago and initially found the writing too obtuse and dense to progress beyond the first few pages. Initially things happen very slowly, with a very short period of time covered in great detail. I came back to it l

ast month, however, and found that it's one of those books that deserve persistence and, ultimately, offer incredibly rich rewards.

The books are set on the interior of what I guess you'd call a planet-sized tubular colony ship (known as `the whorl'), with the `long sun' acting like a giant solar fluorescent tube up the middle, providing heat and light. The ship has been on its journey for so long that none of the inhabitants remember that their world is artificial. However, this sci-fi setting belies the feverish imagination and literary intelligence that make this book so compelling.

The plot follows the young a priest – or ‘Patera’ – Silk as he attempts to save the Sun Street Manteion, the neighbourhood church he runs. It’s in the poorest area of the city-state of Viron and is bought by a powerful criminal kingpin named Blood.

Silk worships a pantheon of Gods, whose origin can be guessed by the fact that their Olympus is called ‘Mainframe’. However, Silk’s quest to save the Manteion is driven by a divine vision bestowed by ‘the Outsider’, who may be the ‘real’ God as we understand him. Mind you, another less miraculous explanation of Silk’s epiphany is offered towards the end of ‘Lake of the Long Sun’. As you can tell already, nothing is taken as read in a Wolfe novel. Everything is open to interpretation.

Indeed, Wolfe plays games with the reader– dropping in clues can easily be missed in the plot and intertextual references that connect with other Wolfe novels. For instance, the two-headed god named Pas in the Book of the Long Sun is the tyrant Typhon encountered in the Book of the New Sun. Silk is lame like Severian, the protagonist in the aforementioned tetralogy.

The characterisation is just as slippery: Silk is an earnestly just man, who strives to stay within the moral laws of his religion, but he is still capable of justifying compromises or capitulation with the criminal Blood in self-serving ways.

The writing style reminds me of 19th Century symbolist paintings - slippery of meaning, stoked by classical allusions, vivid imagery and mythological coda. Indeed, when I read it, I feel that I'm in the world depicted in the bejewelled fantastic paintings of Gustave Moreau. I find myself dreaming of the golden baroque images that Wolfe conjures up in his writing.

Of course, only being two books in, I have no idea of how Silk's story will progress or how all the symbolic threads that are being laid out will come together and resolve themselves. However, I'm enjoying the journey immensely...

Jupiter and Semele by Gustave Moreau

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Panting Towards The Christmas Finishing Line

It's wrong to wish your life away, but I really am staggering on at work, desperate for Christmas to come. Oh, for a week of festive over-indulgence with not a single campaign brief in sight.

It's like being at the end of a marathon (not that I've ever run one, but bear with me while I let this analogy spin out): your legs are about to give way, you've had to shit yourself after 20 miles (do they sell incontinence pants for long-distance runners - 'Nike Skids' perhaps?) and you can feel your heart go all Douglas Adams. Yet you keep going, clinging to the thought of the finishing line.

In fact, I've been so keen for the festive season to come I've even been playing my 'Lovely Xmas' playlist at work. This has provoked mixed reactions, sadly. One habitually hungover account manager asked me to turn it down. I asked whether it was because she had a headache and she replied 'No, it's just shit music'. Bah, humbug indeed!

Friday, December 07, 2007

This site has rescued me from terminal grumpiness today. This is the funniest thing I've read for ages. It's a great idea - pulling stupid, Daily Mail reader comments from message boards and taking the piss out of them:

The best turn of phrase so far:

I’d like to weigh in with my important opinion on this important debate, but I’m afraid I’m busy having an important argument. We’re trying to decide whether it’s better to have an evil fireman force cat shit up your nose with a jetwash, or have dog shit slowly massaged into your gums by a stinky dentist.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Who is That Movie Deep Voiceover Man?

I just watched the ad for the DVD version of Transformers, another BIG DUMB movie. As a result, one question occurs to me. Who IS the man who does the voiceovers for ALL movie trailers and DVD ads? Is it just one man or are there a legion of them, all with the same gruff deep American voice? Can someone tell me?

Incidentally, the semiotics of the gruff, deep-voiced American voice are interesting. The deep voice is the voice of the tough-guy, but it's also paternal. The American accent denotes Hollywood authenticity, especially to a UK audience in the thrall of US culture. It seems irrational that there are no alternatives until you imagine someone else doing it. They just wouldn't seem as authoritative or exciting...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hidebound Banners

I've been working on a Christmas banner campaign for a client, yet again coming up with creative for the usual banners (468 x 60 pixels), MPUs (300x250 pixels) and skyscrapers (120 x 600). This has led me to wonder why we're stuck with the same formats that we've had for years. Trying to get a message across in a box 468 by 60 pixels in an era of broadband media convergence just seems ridiculous. I mean, why is it 468 pixels long anyway? Seems entirely arbitrary to me (if anyone knows the reason, please do tell).

Of course, it could be argued that the formats fit around content rather than intruding upon it, thus satisfying usability requirements. However, why not have widescreen MPUs to accommodate movie trailers? Or fat banners that do something similar? They could still sit on the periphery of content, but deliver an experience that would actually entertain users.

For a young medium the internet already feels terribly hidebound in some of its traditions already...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mila's 10th Birthday

I spent yesterday afternoon on a 10th birthday clothes shopping trip with my eldest child Mila. Although I returned exhausted after walking up and down Oxford Street twice, it was a real pleasure to see her choose outfits, putting together a ‘look’, during the day. I felt rather proud that my girl was growing up and developing her own style.

According to a lot of reportage in the middle class press, 10 year olds are all supposedly ultra-demanding and cynical ultra-consumers, adults before their time. I guess if parents allow them to be by being incapable of saying ‘no’ then it’s possible. However, maybe it betrays a fear of children growing up. Rather than fret about it, I’m going to go with the flow and enjoy Mila’s increasing sophistication and discernment.

On a very strict budget of course!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Best Apocalypses in the World EVER!

I think everyone agrees that we now live in the future and it’s crap. My generation were told in our Usborne books that we’d be jetting around in space by now, hanging out with robots, living in a domed city on the moon or in a twisted post-nuclear war wasteland with loads of cool mutants and adventure. Instead, we’ve got really tiny computers and the slow-burn apocalypse of climate change. I mean, what kind of Armageddon is that? Where are the all mutants and road-warriors?!

Having had the benefit of a few years on this Earth, I also notice that the apocalypse is always changing. Anyway, all this leads me to the point of this entry – my list of the 5 best apocalypses EVER!

1. The biblical apocalypse

This is the daddy of apocalypses, straight from the fevered brain of Saint John. It’s got some great destruction going on after those seven seals are opened by the Lamb of God. Notable for introducing the Anti-Christ and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Plague, Famine, War and Noel Edmunds.

2. Nuclear war – the classic!

As a child, we watched Threads and The Day After which scared the living shit out of us as we lived in the world of Mutually Assured Destruction. However, comics painted a picture of survivalists battling disfigured mutants that made the post-nuclear hell sound rather exciting and fun.

3. Zombies

Somehow a virus reanimates corpses and they bite living humans, so they become zombies too. Quite why, after a few months, all the undead don’t simply rot to pieces so they can’t actually pose a threat any more isn’t explored. Maybe it’s all the preservatives in food these days?

4. Charlton Heston is the last man on Earth…

…or at least the last noble, macho, normal man on earth. Charlton Heston was the face of the apocalypse in the 1970s, railing against man’s inhumanity to man while kicking mutant/ape butt. Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes and Omega Man gave him plenty of opportunity to grimly witness the fall of man and display his righteous Romanesque profile.

5. Everyone goes blind and gets killed by intelligent plants from the stars

Speaks for itself – John Wyndham wrote Day of the Triffids in the ‘50s, but I remember the BBC series featuring John Duttine, which featured extremely badly put-together Triffids that appeared to be made by a man with Parkinsons out of fibreglass. Bad special effects didn’t stop the series terrifying the pants off me at the time, of course.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Gym Induction with Conan the King

As some longstanding readers will know, every now and again I engage in a futile attempt to get fit. More specifically, I join a gym in an attempt to lose weight; diligently go for a few weeks; then cease to go as my willpower ebbs away like the tide on Morecombe Bay, exposing the mudflats of my laziness.

The other key element of this process is the slightly humiliating gym induction, where a hugely fit bull-male condescendingly takes me through the necessary steps to approximate some form of fitness.

Now the cycle is starting again: I’ve joined a gym near work and have started my induction process, guided back to fitness by a taciturn man-mountain of non-specific Northern/Eastern European origin named Jan (or “Yaaan” as he pronounces it). Having an induction with Yaaan is a slightly disconcerting experience. For one thing, his arms are wider than my thighs. I can’t imagine he can use a urinal, as his arms are so muscle-bound that they surely couldn’t reach round to hold his winkle. Secondly, he delivers assessments of one’s health in terse, sinister statements:

“You haf waist of vun metre. This…not good.”

“Your BMI 16%. This…not good.”

“Your flexibility is 12cm. This also…not good.”

“Your grip…adequate. This OK.”

So I’m feeling pretty crap about myself. Then he finds out I work in advertising and launches into a condemnation of my profession.

“Advertising verrr bad as teach child to vant more consume.”

I remark that I’m fully aware that capitalism isn’t a great way to run the world, but no competing system appears to be emerging and until then I have to feed and house my children somehow. Yaaan nods sagely, a bit like Conan the King on his throne agreeing to the counsel of a lowly underling. Then we’re onto the results: I have to lose 10 kilos, but Yaaan “vill help ju do zis.”

I find out just how tomorrow – I imagine it will hurt.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Positivity Week: Welwyn Garden City Edition

I spent the day in the chilly house on a windy, rain-swept day, waiting for the man to sort out my boiler (please, stop right there – this isn’t a Carry-on film), so one wouldn’t have thought there was a lot of pleasure to be had (unless we were in a Carry-on film).

But – hold on – I’m now Mr Positivity, so I can identify something that did make me smile.

Having procured my lunch from M&S, I was coming back from Welwyn Garden City’s majestic Howard Centre (it is not simply a mall, it is an architectural wonder that rivals the Colossus of Rhodes or, indeed, the Great Pyramid of Giza) when I saw big clumps of foam gliding along in the wind. Then, as I progressed along the street, I was stunned to discover a winter-wonderland of ersatz snow covering the parklands of our charming little town.

Yes, some moron had put washing-up liquid in that other Wonder of Welwyn Garden City, the Coronation Fountain. Normally I’d decry the idiocy of our nation’s cretinous youth, but today the foam looked both spectacular and seasonal. So that’s my small pleasure of the day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weekend of Good Things

Yes, I’m still concentrating on the good things in life! Weekend pleasurable moments include:
  • Going to a windswept farm with Stan, Emily, sister-in-law Lucy and brother-in-law Lee. It was one of those ‘farm as theme park’ places. They all seem to have the same stuff in them – a ‘guinea pig village/town/suburb/conurbation’ and an ‘amazing maize maze’. (Oh, wavering close to cynicism there!) Anyway, Stan loved it and has learned the word ‘tractor’ as a result of our visit.
  • Going to the gym with Lee. Admittedly it was in Stevenage (which is one place that could puncture my positivity) but going to the gym with Lee is like having a free personal trainer – so I learned a lot of useful stuff.
  • Another musical rediscovery – Peter Hook of New Order’s side project ‘Revenge’. I played the vinyl album to death back in 1990. Found it again on iTunes and it still sounds great.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Positivity Week, Part Two

Today's little pleasures:
  1. Nutella on toast for breakfast
  2. Working Keith Chegwin into a campaign idea
  3. Rediscovering Weirdo by the Charlatans - what a great organ solo in the intro...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Positivity Week, Part One

I’m trying to get into blogging again, after a long work-related lay-off. Looking at earlier posts I notice I have three modes of communication:

(a) Fulminating against modern life and (as I perceive it) other people’s idiocy

(b) Describing my own idiocy

(c) Cynicism in general

In an effort to inject some sunshine into this blog, I’ve decided to only write about nice things for a whole week, starting right here.


Jeez, this isn’t easy!


OK, here goes – I’m going to describe the small things that give me pleasure. Those little delights that give me a lift during my day. Perhaps you’d like to leave comments with yours?

The little things that enhanced my day so far are:

  • The consideration of Nintendo game developers

I’m playing ‘Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass’ on the DS (which is a pleasure in itself, but I won’t rhapsodise about it here) and was tickled to find that I was asked before I started the game whether I was left or right-handed. The interface was then configured for a leftie like me. Nice touch!

  • Stan’s new phrase

He’s started to say ‘Oh no!’ when he drops something or otherwise has a mishap. Although he says it in a way that suggests he’s enjoying himself. It really is the most adorable thing.

The map's upside down. Oh no!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

7 Fascinating Facts About Me - Yes, ME ME ME

My friend Steve has shamed me into writing something on this sad, neglected, overgrown graveyard of a blog after a long absence. His clarion call is a blog tag challenge to write 7 interesting facts about myself. Ahh, my favourite subject! No problem!
  1. I used to read Tarot cards in clubs and bars. My mum had read them for years, so I picked it up by default. I would sit in chill-out rooms and read fortunes for drinks. Strangely, the readings became more accurate the drunker I got. After dabbling in Crowley and Chaos Magic, I lost interest in all things mystical in my late 20s. Perhaps my third eye got blocked?
  2. I nearly killed a flatmate with a wardrobe. When I lived in a 5th floor student flat in West Ham, my friend Blaine and I lazily got rid of a wardrobe by chucking it off our balcony. Unfortunately for our other flatmate, Nicky, it landed just as she stepped out of the door at the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, however, it missed her by about a foot. We didn’t like her much, but had no intention of manslaughter. It was a spectacular MDF explosion when it landed though!
  3. I have an unfortunate habit of buying crap things on impulse and regretting it. The latest was the X-Rocker, a repulsive vinyl ‘gaming chair’ with build-in speakers. That went on eBay after a week…
  4. When I was 6 and living in Manchester, I was mugged by two older kids for some medals given to me by my Nan’s husband Billy. As well as the medals, I was wearing a yellow plastic duck hat when accosted.
  5. I got Darth Vader’s autograph from his visit to Rackhams in Leamington Spa. I must have been about 10 at the time and was a Vader fanatic (my attraction to the Dark Side has continued through employment in advertising). You had to buy some Star Wars bedding to get the autograph under normal circumstances. However, I hung around for so long that one of the staff took pity on me and got the Dark Lord to sign me a photograph during one of his breaks in the stockroom.
  6. My first bike was a blue Raleigh Chipper.
  7. I’ve had two letters published in the sci-fi comic, 2000AD. I was in my thirties on both occasions, so I should know better than to get excited.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Holiday Diary, by Stan Fitzgerald, aged 1 and 2 weeks

Friday 20 July

Go to a big, big place with loads of boring queues. Get food and drink all over two changes of clothes. After realising there’s no more fresh clothes unpacked, Daddy goes and buys me a pure white England kit. I vomit orange juice all over it as soon as he gets it on me. I always thought orange suited me better anyway.

Then we get on a white bus thing with wings. After a few hours wriggling around, trying to explore and dropping food into mummy’s lap, I do some breakdancing on the nappy-changing station and my dad sticks his hand on my poo. Funniest moment of the holiday so far!

The bus thing stops moving and we get out somewhere hot. Aunty Lucy meets us and, after a cool car-ride, we arrive at a massive house (called a ‘hotel’) where we’ve got a room. I practice my walking, have a grizzle and then conk out in a travel cot.

Saturday 21 July

We go to restaurant by something called the ‘sea’ (looks like a huge blue paddling pool) for lunch and the growns-ups eat lots while I smear pizza over my high-chair and show off to the waiters before getting bored, throwing all my food and cutlery on the floor and madly trying to escape in reckless, suicidal fashion.

Monday 23 July

Spot my first cat, lying down outside massive house. Get all excited and dad lets me get near it, but mum shouts “Rabies!” and I’m whisked away quickly. Not sure that ‘Rabies’ is a good name for a cat. I prefer ‘gibbie-gubs’.

See more cats – very exciting! Shout ‘cat’ a lot, which seems to provoke lots of cuddles from the parents. They’re funny like that.

Tuesday 24 July

It’s hot, hot, hot! I spend a lot of time under a funny-looking tree, trying to pull bits off it.

I’m then deposited in an over-sized bath and I’m none too pleased, quite frankly. That is, until I’m given a blue inflatable whale to float about in. That’s more like it!

Thursday 26 July

We and a load of other people are put on a giant version of my inflatable whale that floats on the ‘sea’ thing. My auntie is dressed in a white dress and cries a lot. I’m guessing something sad has happened, but it’s hard to tell with adults. Lots of people I know are here now, including the nice older ones called ‘grandpa’ and ‘granny’. I practice my walking, but it’s hard when the floor moves about. Gain more satisfaction from sliding plastic chairs across a wooden floor over and over again.

Friday 27 July

Have a dance to some music being played by an old bearded bloke with a beard while the adults eat. Grandpa carries me up to him and he kisses me. I’ll stick with listening to the music, thank you, beardy!

I spot another cat and I’m allowed to touch this one. Somehow my gentle stroke causing the cat to make a hissing noise and I find a load of its fur gripped in my fingers. Wonder how that happened?

Saturday 29 July

Play with a bigger boy named Eden and we swop stones from the beach, then compete over how quickly we can climb over a sun-lounger. I learn to say ‘stone’ from Eden, which impresses the adults. They try to get me to say ‘oh no!’ like him too, but I’m not playing ball!

Monday 31 July

Too hot to go out much today, so I try to demolish the hotel room instead. My quest for maximum destruction is thwarted by the parents at every turn. Spoilsports! Between that and trying to food in my mouth at every opportunity, it’s not surprising I have an occasional tantrum.

In the evening, we go to a giant shed, wait around a few hours until we get on another wing-bus thingie. After a bit of peeking over the top of the seat and showing off to the kids in front, I fall asleep and wake up in the back of a car. Then I’m back in my own bed. It’s all a bit confusing, really. Anyway, it’s good to be home…I'll look our for some more cats to make friends with tomorrow...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Off to Cyprus Tomorrow

Dear reader, you'll be free of my pointless witterings for a whole 10 days while I attend my lovely sister-in-law Lucy's wedding in Cyprus. Take it easy - normal service will be resumed when I return, hopefully looking a bit browner and more relaxed...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Best Bitching I've Heard for a While

One woman to another in the coffee bar this morning:

“She says she’s having a nightmare because she’s looking for a place in LA, yeah, been around 15-20 places; none of them were good enough. This is where you lose sympathy because they were fabulous houses and she’s turned her nose up at them all. And there was this one, which admittedly needed some work, yeah, because it’s kind of falling down a cliff, but she comes out and says ‘Oh no, I couldn’t – not with the kids.’ And I was thinking: ‘Right, like you’re such a good mother – where ARE the kids? They’re hardly ever with you…’”

World class, jetset bitching ahoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Children's Party Survival Guide

It was Stan's first birthday on Sunday and we had a party to celebrate. I'm still recovering. I went to some wild parties at university and a fair few illegal raves, but they were nowhere near as messy as this.

Chaos was unconfined in our little house, with Mila and Frankie's friends playing musical statues to nosebleed techno (my fault - I'd left the CD on the stereo), off their heads on Coke and Monster Munch (half of which ended up stamped into the carpet). Then there were Stan's little mates ,who were engaged in trying to mash Cadbury's Mini-Rolls into the furniture with their little chocolate-besmirched fingers. When they weren't doing that, they were crying or just trying desperately to escape to somewhere suitably dangerous.

By mid-afternoon I'd decided that the only way to get through the party was to get as drunk as possible, so I was utterly muntered by the time we blew out the single candle on Stan's cake and sang happy birthday. In fact, I was barely able to blow the candle out for him as I couldn't actually align with the bloody thing. However, I had also stopped worrying about the carpet.

So there you go - that's my advice on surviving children's parties - get REALLY pissed! Can't see that making it into the Saturday Guardian's 'Family' section.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Creatives! Cartoon Part 3: Dress Sense

Click on the cartoon to see it engorged

Back, back, back!

Apologies to my reader for the paucity of blog entries over the last week. I’ve been waylaid by a combination of work, children and illness. Also, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of a bloody thing to write about that’s vaguely entertaining. No diatribes, rants, wry asides or observations.

I now understand why newspaper columnists are so boring to read – they have a financial incentive to keep churning out crap, whether they’re inspired or not. The worse of the lot, in my humble opinion, is AA Gill, who writes smug wank for the Sunday Times and GQ magazine. The worse examples are his post-modern restaurant reviews, where he whitters on about random tedious nonsense until the final paragraph when he actually discusses the food.

On a less ascerbic note, this week has marked Stan's transition from baby to toddler - he's walking and has a vocabulary of 4 words: 'mum', 'hia', ''Ello' and 'Lookatdat'. If only AA Gill's vocabulary was that limited.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Star Spotted! New Heat Magazine-style Feature

Guess who I just spotted on the Tottenham Court Road? Rick Wakeman, keyboardist from seminal 70s prop-rock behemoth band Yes, at the till in the newsagent buying fags. He was wearing slacks, a ratty old brown jumper and - bizarrely - was carrying a Tetley Bitter hold-all. From the Alex Ferguson-like purple of his nose I would say he likes a drop or two of the hard stuff. In fact, generally, he looked like a tramp.

I didn't ask him why he wasn't wearing a cape because he looked like he was in a bad mood.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Signs I'm Getting Old, No. 1

I had a long conversation about washing machines today and found myself rather enjoying it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not so Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - My Late Review

“You always have a choice.” These wise, nay cosmically profound, words are spoken by the Invisible Girl, Sue Storm, to the Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel I paid good money to see last night. They are the words that convince him to abandon Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, and save the Earth. It may seem somewhat odd that, after he assisted in the destruction of dozens of other worlds, the surfer would be so easily persuaded by what some may unkindly call a sentimental platitude. It may have helped that Sue looked like his long-lost love from his homeworld. Maybe all the other planets just didn’t have any hot chicks on them?

That little turd-nugget is typical of an entire film heaving at the seams with lazy plotting, simple-minded irritating characterisation and tedium. Even if I try to put aside my comic fanboy objections to the film (Galactus as a CLOUD for fuck’s sake?!!), I can’t find anything good to say about it. Long periods are dominated by clunking interplay between the members of the Fantastic Four. I suppose this is to help us ‘identify with them’, but I was simply bored and ended up feeling intense hatred for Johnny Storm. He’s supposed to be a cheeky, flawed maverick, but I just thought he was a cunt. At one point, he asks of the others “what have you got against capitalism?” Er, where would you like me to start, you shallow shitbag?

I could go on and on, but I’ll just highlight one more thing. Johnny spends a lot of the film pursuing and being rebuffed by a sexy female soldier. A soldier who happily stands guard while the Silver surfer is tortured (in a bunker in Siberia – I didn’t realise the US had a presence there!) In a twee ‘tying up loose ends’ effort, she appears to have got it together with Johnny and attended Reed and Sue’s wedding in the closing scene (I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that the Earth is NOT destroyed by Galactus). This seems to be sending a bizarre moral message to kids – she may have collaborated in torture but, hey, she’s actually a really nice person! Let’s invite her to the wedding!

No wonder the Americans are getting it wrong in Iraq with those kind of moral standards…

Our film is rubbish

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Creatives! Cartoon Episode 2: Transport

Click to see it in glorious detail

Monday, June 25, 2007

Having a Great Time Outdoors, Even in a Shithole

I was reading my less talented but infinitely more successful contemporary Charlie Brooker'seffete account of Glastonbury on the train this morning. All those people having an amazing time despite the rain, mud, bad drugs and worse toilet facilities. Then, as I cycled up the polluted, filthy Euston road I saw there were people happily sitting outside Costa, enjoying their coffee in a pavement seating area, as if the trucks and buses weren't thundering past. It was like they imagined were on a secluded piazza in Florence.

This was when I realised that one of the great abilities of Homo Sapiens is the ability to completely ignore one's surroundings and doggedly have a GOOD TIME OUTDOORS. I would even postulate that there's a part of the brain devoted to filtering out hideousness when having a GREAT TIME OUTDOORS. In fact, I've decided that this cognitive centre is called Al Fresco's Winnet.

Al Fresco's Winnet is especially developed in the British, for whom HAVING A WHALE OF A TIME OUTDOORS is especially challenging. It's either pissing down with rain or so global-warmingly hot that our pasty skin gets fried after 5 minutes in the sun.

No doubt when we have completely fucked up the planet and have to live in survival-fridge-domes to protect us from pollution and a boiling atmosphere there'll be Britishers sitting outside laughing, drinking frapuccinos as their brains boil.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Virgin Media Again: a Few Thoughts on Copywriting

I was thinking about Virgin Media again this morning (yes, I’m obsessed!), having passed a few of their ads during my commute. As a copywriter, I’ve always liked the Virgin tone of voice, which is consistent in its clarity and humanity.

However, having fallen foul of some of the promises made in Virgin Media ads and misleading simplifications in their instruction booklets, I’ve come to the conclusion that rather than demonstrating true clarity, the tone of voice actually creates falsehoods through omission. This isn’t good copywriting. Good copywriting is communicating the true facts in a clear and succinct fashion. It's easy to make thing sound simple by missing the difficult bits out.

It’s a bit like being seduced by a good-looking (I can't deny the new brand looks and sounds good) but dishonest lover. They’ll promise you the stars in order to shag you, but then fuck off at 5 in the morning with your wallet.

Not a basis for a sustainable relationship…

Hahaha! I'm off to the bookies with your cash!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Virgin Media Rant: Lots of Swearing

I'm sitting in the living room with rain lashing down outside and Stan asleep in his pushchair. Emily's away for her sister Lucy's Hen Night and I'm babysitting the boy. As I sit here, I'm looking at my Virgin Media set-top box with loathing (well, glancing at it in between typing, but why ruin the dramatic effect?)

Long-standing readers of my blog will know that I've been consistently pissed off with Virgin Media ever since it stopped being NTL. They've charged me twice for months, made reconnecting after moving house into a gruelling endurance test, repeatedly miscommunicated or simply failed to communicate at all.

The latest bit of corporate cuntery from Branson's operation is taking on-demand services away from me and trying to charge £5 for the honour. Most of the time the services didn't actually work anyway, so it's no great loss. What infuriates me is that I signed up to the TV package on the understanding that on-demand was part of the deal. There was FUCK ALL in the advertising that suggested that it would be taken away. It's so shitting duplicitous.

The worse thing is this: as a customer, THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT! Is a rant to a phoneline drone going to make a difference? Is writing a letter going change Virgin Media's ways? Are they bollocks going to. What's left? Go over to Sky? Will they really be better?

There's plenty of marketing theories about the consumer being king these days, but Let's face We are all powerless in the face of these capitalist behemoths.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Stardust - My Star Pun-Free Film Review

I went to a preview showing of the film Stardust last night (it’s in cinemas from October, apparently). Don't worry - you won't any crap star puns - "it's a star turn" etc etc. I promise.

It’s a fantasy film based on the illustrated fairy tale by comics megastar Neil Gaiman and artist Charles Vess. Designer colleague Rob and I were invited along as we’re working on a project involving the film. Having visited the website, we went to the preview feeling the film would be a bit naff. Luckily, it was a really entertaining, gorgeous-looking movie and less simple-minded than most films aimed at a crossover audience of adults and kids. Admittedly, the hero being named Tristan may have softened up my critical faculties…

The plot involves this Tristan, a humble lad from an English village named Wall. There is indeed a wall near the village (the town founders must have been particularly unimaginative with words); a wall between the human world and the fairy realm. When a star falls beyond the wall, Tristan swears to enter the fairy kingdom to retrieve it for the feckless cow he’s got the hots for. This, needless to say, leads to a quest full of peril and enchantment.

The thing that saves it from being twee is the gallows humour that permeates the script. I also liked the fact that – unusually for a fantasy movie – there was actually a gay character in there. In fact, Robert de Niro’s turn as the gay pirate Captain Shakespeare was, for me, the highlight of the film. Yes! Travis Bickle as a homosexual freebooter! What brilliant casting! His performance shit all over Ricky Gervais's cameo as David Brent in a funny hat.

Anyway, October’s a long way off, but I reckon you should see Stardust when it twinkles into UK cinemas…Shit! Sorry...

"Look, Ricky - don't try and fucking tell me that Extras is as funny as the Office"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Death of Facebook?

Facebook was on BBC Breakfast this morning, with the hosts making the same joke about ‘poking’ that’s always made when the site is reported on TV. I’m guessing that augers the death-knell for the site. In fact, I can hear it ringing out across the land now. As soon as these things hit the mainstream media they become terminally uncool and die.

Or do they?

Am I being a digital agency snob about this? Just because something becomes the Internet equivalent of a Wetherspoons pub to people like me doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to die. I’m sure that most of the webarati wouldn’t be seen dead on MySpace, yet over 100,000000 accounts have been created there. That’s an awful lot of teenagers and pop stars. So its likely that when Facebook fever has died among the AKQA diaspora, there’ll be plenty of other people to take our place.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Scott Walker Made Me Cry

To say that music can have a powerful, often irrational, emotional effect is not an original observation.

After all, it’s the principle behind every single male’s ‘Shag CD’ (or Pooching Playlist for the technically savvy); the hope that a bit of Luther Vandross and Lionel Richie will act like an aural Rohypnol when they’ve got a woman back to their fetid man-pad. However, when music does conjure up a big emotion from deep inside my brain it always catches me unawares.

This morning I was on the 08.14 from Welwyn Garden City, listening to my iPod on shuffle. In between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park ‘If You Go Away’ by Scott Walker began to play. For some reason the melancholy tune and Jacques Brelle’s poetic lyrics made me pause and cry.

I must have looked slightly bonkers and have no idea what emotional connection had been made in my head. All I can say is that, for a moment, I was watching London rush by and living that song.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Baby Recycling

The irresponsible, selfish throwaway ethos of our society took another turn for the worse today, as you can see from this photo of my office. I am, quite frankly, outraged. The sign clearly says the recycling bin is for aluminium cans only.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Advertising Agency Manners

Something occurred to me this morning as I got to the entrance of Saatchis shortly after a co-worker and found the glass door swung shut in my face. What does it say about the advertising world when I’m always mildly surprised when someone actually holds a door open for me after they’ve gone through it? Is it lack of manners, an endemic selfishness or is everyone immersed in their own world?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Yes, I Admit It, I Liked the Sisters of Mercy

My friend Steve has pointed out that in a comment that I had a soft spot for the Sisters of Mercy in my youth. I cannot deny it. Any band that calls its drum machine ‘Doktor Avalanche’ is cool with me. I particularly loved the Floodlands album, which was when ‘ver Sisters’ went mainstream I suppose. I remember wanting Andrew Eldrich’s white suit in the Dominion video. My god, I thought he looked cool. 20 years on, I now see that Steve himself actually adopted the facial hair and glasses ‘look’ of Eldritch!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Heavy Metal Memories and Pat Mills' Requiem

One of the illicit pleasures of my childhood was buying (or indeed shoplifting) Heavy Metal comic from unwitting newsagents in Leamington Spa. Heavy Metal is the US version of the French comic anthology Metal Hurlant, full of translated European fantasy comic strips, which was cool in itself, but the best thing was that it was also littered with beautifully drawn nude women and sex. Horny 12 year old sci-fi nut nirvana! As it was a comic, the newsagents would stick it next to the Beano and I could legitimately buy it. Hurrah!

As an adult, I haven’t often shelled out for Heavy Metal as it’s generally full of nonsensical beautifully drawn rubbish – and the allure of nude cartoon women isn’t quite as powerful. However, recently I have started reading it again for one comic strip – the utterly deranged ‘Requiem Vampire Knight’.

Requiem is a Franco-Belgian comic written by the British visionary Pat Mills (the bloke who started 2000ad) and drawn by French artist Olivier Ledroit. It’s best summarised a mental vampire goth headfuck set in a bloodsoaked Hell.

Its protagonist is a Nazi soldier reincarnated as a Vampire in a nightmare world where time runs backwards. I can’t really make head nor tail of the plot, but it seems to involve Requiem searching hell for his lost love who was a Jewish woman sent to the camps. Loads of over-the-top bonkers stuff is thrown into the mix – Dracula rules a kingdom in this hellworld, Tomas de Torquemada has been reincarnated as a werewolf and there’s an extreme politically correct feminist tyrant from Venus who’s been brought back as a pirate. There’s also plenty of sado-masochistic sex and gory ultra-violence.

There’s no doubt that Mills has several screws loose and writing for an adult European comics publisher allows him to let those screws scatter all over the shop in a very disturbing fashion. The madness is brought to life by Ledroit’s feverishly detailed psychopathically exuberant art.

Mind you, if Mills is mentally ill, I must have a morbid side to seek this stuff out. It’s funny – I used to look down my nose at Goths as a teenager and now I’m turning into one…

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Charlie Brooker - Allied to C***s

I have been, along with everyone in the ex-AKQA diaspora, dabbling in the world of Facebook for a few weeks now. I usually check in once or twice a day and feel stupidly happy when someone puts a message on my ‘wall’. Coincidentally Charlie Brooker wrote about his social ineptness on Facebook in the Guardian last week. This is a good enough excuse for me to haul out my very own Charlie Brooker anecdote.

Many years ago, when the Internet was young and I was somewhat thinner, I worked at a (now defunct) new media agency named Zinc. Every week the creative dept. would look forward to the latest online TV listings spoof ‘TV Go Home’ written by Brooker. A series in the imaginary listings was ‘Cunt’, which was, ironically enough, about a feckless new media wanker just like us named Nathan Barley. Thankfully he was public school and had a trust fund, so the parallels weren’t too painfully direct.

Then one week the TV Go Home e-newsletter featured a link to the site of a man declaring himself to be the ‘Real Cunt’. He used this ego toss-space to boast about his agency work, film script efforts, gorgeous aristo girlfriend, not to mention the Notting Hill flat funded by Daddy. You get the picture. The idiot foolishly put an email link on his site. This tempted half a dozen of us to write abusive emails to the dolt.

My email was pretty reasonable – just asking him why he was proud of his similarity to a self-obsessed, ignorant, lazy, pretentious, venal Thatcher’s child arsewipe. I got an irate reply and a frank email ‘exchange of views’ ensued. Meanwhile we’d sent his URL to people elsewhere and sending him abuse went viral. He blamed me and it all got a bit silly, with him threatening lawsuits (I still remember the threat of ‘my dad’s a lawyer’).

It all culminated in an anonymous email arriving in his inbox (which eventually turned out to be from my friend John) describing all sorts of sadistic scenarios climaxing with the ‘Real Cunt’ ending up in a full-body cast and being anally raped by hospital porters. He pinned the email on me – again threatening legal action (I could have killed John when I found out he was responsible). He also took down his website, which was sensible really.

This was when Charlie Brooker stepped in and ‘flamed’ me in the TV Go Home newsletter. Here was the supposed enemy of cunts defending one! He even accused me of hypocrisy as the name Tristan sounded suspiciously public school! Oh, the betrayal. Needless to say Brooker lost a bit of cred with me after that. Not that he’d give a shit, the successful bastard.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bowels Attack!

All too frequently in my life I find that important events are affected adversely by my bowels. In fact, I’m beginning to think that they’re conspiring against me. I don’t know what I’ve done to them to deserve this kind of treatment, but their malevolence knows no bounds. It’s like they’re out for some form of revenge.

Take today. Important client meeting. Wake up with chronic stomach cramps and make two unscheduled prostrate-pitstops before I’ve even made it out of the house. Make the hideous mistake of having a small coffee and spend the entire journey to work fearing that some kind of terrible pebble-dashing accident will occur.

Get to work, go twice more. Stagger into meeting. It lasts for two hours. I spend most of that time agonised by stomach cramps, worrying that the bomb-bay doors are about to open. The entire meeting is literally buttock-clenching.

I rush away after saying goodbye to the clients, desperate to ‘go’. Of course, because the gods like toying with me, the toilets on my floor are out of order. I dash downstairs and have to use the disabled toilet to let nature take its course. Jesus, I’ve never known relief like it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Tribe is Over

I emerged from the Saatchi & Saatchi ‘tribe’ yesterday, exhausted but still on a bit of a high. The very word ‘tribe’ makes you think of pretentious adland wankery, but the session was genuinely the best time I’ve had at work for ages. And this isn’t simply down to the free bacon sarnies laid on every day for breakfast.

Considering the number of creative team participating from across Europe, there was a surprising lack of ego about using each other’s ideas and seeing where we could take them. I say surprising because I’ve worked at some agencies where having ideas was a competitive process and the biggest, loudest ego in the room usually won out, even if their idea was shit.

Another interesting thing was how different countries have different styles of idea. For instance, the Italian team’s ideas were always poetic and surreal, while the Spanish ideas were based on very simple, direct insights. The Brit ideas were more about humour and a classic ATL lateral way of thinking that I really want to learn.

So, over all, no cynicism or bile from me. I was happy to be part of the tribe.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Not a lot of blog, as I’m in a ‘tribe’ all day. If like me (until I had it explained to me last week), you’d never heard of such a thing, here’s a quick explanation. It’s a kind of Saatchi & Saatchi super-brainstorm in which creatives from all over the world get together to have ideas in one big session lasting three whole days. The thought of being in one of these inspires both fear and excitement. After all, if we Saatchi Interactive people have shit ideas or no ideas, I’ll be gutted. However, it’ll be a fascinating process in which to participate.

I’ll check back in to give my impressions…

No, not the BBC series Tribe with Bruce Parry...

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hi - if you've made it across from my old URL, welcome to my new one! Here's a nice picture I took of a clown.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Underworld: Evolution Pigshit Debacle

I have low-brow tastes.

I tried to read Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, got two chapters into it and ended up devouring a crime novel by Andrew Vachss instead. I buy the occasional classical piece and get bored with it after one listen. I get arthouse DVDs with subtitles and find myself watching ‘Goodfellas’ again. So, in short, I’ve pretended that I’m intellectual in the past, but I just can’t be arsed any more. I’m happy to wallow in the cultural midden.

However, sometimes the pigshit I roll around in is too fetid even for me. A case in point is ‘Underworld: Evolution’, which I purchased as part of one of those ‘5 for £30’ deals. I’ll admit I rather enjoyed the first film. However, the sequel is worse than I could ever imagine. What an unintelligible car-crash of goth art direction, mangled plot, bad acting and pointless ultra-violence. I don’t expect anything better from Kate Beckinsale, but Derek Jacobi should be ashamed of himself for being greedy enough to take the money and run.

On the plus side, at least ‘Underworld: Evolution’ demonstrates that there limits to the rubbish my brain can tolerate. Now, back to that zombie comic I was reading…

OK, I'm in the frockcoat. Now, where's my cheque?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Office Music Stereotypes

As a creative, I take it for granted that I’m going to work in an environment where people have speakers and are going to play music. Nobody did this at my last agency and I found the atmosphere to be duller and less relaxed as a result. It was, to be frank, like working in a fucking monastery. Even if you absolutely HATE what someone’s playing, at least shouting abuse at them provokes a bit of banter. And if almost everyone digs the music, the room gets a lift. So, in general, I see music in the office as a GOOD THING.

As with anything where a group dynamic is involved, you can observe certain common personality types emerge. Here are a few I’ve noticed…

The one playlist queen

I’m not being sexist here – it usually is a woman, simply because men are far more anal and likely to put new playlists together. She plays a single playlist repeatedly all day, generally featuring pop-bilge like Simply Red and Jamiroquai. The first time you hear the playlist, it puts your teeth on edge. By the time you’ve heard it continuously for 8 hours, your teeth are ground down to the roots and bleeding. In the end you wait until she’s away from her desk and cut the speaker wires.

The headphonist

Generally a programmer or an introvert creative. Silent and possibly psychopathic, they buy a new set of outlandishly huge ‘bins’ once a week, ‘cos they “DJ at the weekends, yeah?” They never play anything on their speakers because they want you to think that they’re listening to the latest Hoxton Twot-tronica, when in actual fact they’re getting down to the Cheeky Girls.

The 80s zombie

There’s always someone in the office whose musical evolution got stuck in 1987, like the Coelacanth of pop. OK, maybe Duran Duran sound better now than they did in the ‘good old days’ but when Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s oeuvre starts getting an airing, it’s time for a violent uprising. Rick Astley was never, ever cool, isn’t cool and will never be cool ever, no matter what kind of post-modern ironic outlook you take.

Desperate to impress Jimmy

This extrovert would-be Jimmy Saville puts together crowd-pleaser playlists for his fellow creative drones. Typically, they’ll combine post-modern retro favourites like ZZ Top with cutting edge New Rave buffoonery. Jimmy imagines everyone dancing around the office in ecstasy, but no one’s as impressed with his party tunes as they should be and he goes home alone to a warm bath and some razor blades.

Anyone got some more office music stereotypes?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

FOPP £3 Rack Hairy Nugget

The £3 rack in Fopp is a terrible thing. Albums are only there because they’re generally considered deeply crap, so there’s a good chance that you’ll either not find anything you’d like despite flipping through the CDs – or, oh horror, find something you do like. The worse of all worlds is that you find something you both liked and bought at full price. This accounts for most of David Bowie’s recent output, in my case! Today’s bargain basement nugget? ZZ Top’s Greatest Hits. Yes, every song sounds more or less the same – and there is a song called ‘Pearl Necklace’ – but those beards rocked the 80s, man. And what adolescent hetero boy, hormones raging, didn't hope that the video for 'Legs' would get played on Top of the Pops?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Quincy M.E. Necrophilia Perversion

I was thinking about the ‘80s autopsy/detective drama series ‘Quincy M.E.’ over the bank holiday weekend. I was particularly thinking about the title sequence, which has three things very wrong with it. Things that reveal the bizarre things that passed as normal in TV drama at the time as effectively as Quincy’s knife revealed the foul play behind the deaths of the stiffs in his refrigerated drawers.
  1. WRONG! There’s an edit threaded into the title sequence where you’re led to believe that Quincy is examining a corpse – but the twist is that it’s really a gorgeous blonde sharing a glass of champagne on the deck of Quincy’s yacht (I’ll get to the yacht). Oh, what larks! The morbid associations this hilarious gag conjures up would keep Freud awake at night (mind you, all that cocaine didn’t help eh, Sigmund?).
  2. WRONG! The fact that the horny old goat is shagging women young enough to be his granddaughter just reflects the male fantasies of the TV executives who produced the series. It’s often suggested that old men chasing young women are emotionally stunted misogynists. However, what really puzzles me is what’s going on in the heads of the women shagging him. How does an old man who makes a living cutting open dead people (and whose social life is limited to hanging out with a bunch of other old men in one pub) attract these babes? Is his charm? Is it the heady aroma of formaldehyde? Is it his yacht? Hang on - yacht?!
  3. WRONG! Yes, Quincy lives on a yacht. On a coroner’s salary. I should fucking coco. I’ve never heard of a bent coroner, but if this wasn’t Hollywood TV lah-lah land you’d swear the old bugger was on the take.
Anyway, take a look at the titles now and see what you think…

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cyclist Hypocrisy Naughtiness

There’s nothing worse then hypocrisy is there? Whether it’s Lord Browne slagging off his ex-lover’s honesty while lying about how they met or John Major banging on about family values while banging Edwina Curry, it’s never pretty. Well, it’s time for me to join the legions of hypocrisy in relation to cycling.

Fucking nutters

You see, when I was a scooterist, I’d get really pissed off with cyclists blatantly ignoring the rules of the road – jumping red lights, popping out from behind buses without looking and racing along the pavement terrifying pedestrians. The thing that really, really pissed me off was when they would pedal up the middle of the road, getting in the way and slowing me down. “If I was on a bicycle, I wouldn’t ride like that, they’re fucking nutters,” I would think to myself.

Cycling short shit

Well, now I’m cycling myself on my little Dahon folding bike and, of course, I’m riding like a fucking nutter myself. The thing is – the way London roads are built, you’re really not given much choice. It’s so incredibly cyclist-hostile that it would make your average Amsterdammer shit their cycling shorts. You’re forced to put yourself in the way of danger all the time if you want to get anywhere in this city.

Arse bumper

Let’s take jumping the lights as an example. I know it’s bad. However, when I do this I consider it to be defensive rule-breaking. Motorists are revving their engines, desperate to get going and they’re looming threateningly behind you. Jumping the lights is often the best way to get a safe head-start and avoid getting a bumper up your arse.

Suicide junction

It’s the same with riding on the pavement. Sometimes the roads are so badly planned, it’s the only safe option. There’s a bit on the Euston road/Tottenham Court Road junction bikepath where you’re deposited right back into heavy traffic on a steep slope and at a right angle. It’s suicidal to do this, so one is forced to go along the pavement a bit.

That's just two examples of crap road planning, I could go on and on. So, to paraphrase so many criminals before me, I’m going to hold up my hands and say that “it’s a fair cop, guv’nor, but the cival engineers are to blame!”

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Walking Dead Comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard: Emotionally Believable Zombie World

It’s rare that a mainstream comic book comes along that features ordinary people with human weaknesses trying to cope with the emotional fallout from a disaster. It’s even rarer to find emotional empathy in comics, where the need to big, violent things to happen and for even bigger things to explode (like the occasional planet) appears to dominate.

Having devoured 5 books of The Walking Dead in one week, I’m happy to have found a comic that has a cast of believable ordinary people and applies emotional realism to its storytelling. Admittedly these believable ordinary people spent their surrounded by (as well as fighting and being eaten by) zombies, but their reactions to this extraordinary situation are refreshingly realistic.

The scenario is the same as most zombie flicks: we follow a group of survivors as they try to stay alive in a nightmarish, shattered United States ruled by the shambling brainless dead with a penchant for dining on living flesh. We start out encountering a small-town cop Rick Grimes as he wakes up in hospital after being put in a coma by a gunshot wound (echoes of Danny Boyles' 28 Days Later). After quickly getting acquainted with the flesh-eating zombie situation, he tries to track down his wife and child in Atlanta (which is chock full of carnivorous corpses).

I don’t want to talk you too much about what follows, as I’d love you to read it and become as gripped by the twists and turns of the plot as I was. Suffice it to say that the writer, Robert Kirkman, deals with well-worn Romaro-style tropes and explores them in his own way. The characters develop, experiencing survivor’s guilt, fear, depression, boredom and loss. They harden up as the old social norms and certainties slip away. They grow and change. This is unusual for the horror genre in any medium, let alone comics.

In the main, the art is handled by the UK artist Charlie Adlard (who I know from his virtuoso black and white drawing for ‘Savage’ in 2000ad) whose dark, rough and expressive style adds to the realistic atmosphere.

Having never been a big zombie fanatic, I’ve had 7 days of living with the dead and I love it. Just have to wait for volume 6 to come out now…

Friday, April 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

One designer to another: "Ambidextrous? Isn't that when you can bend your arms right back?"

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My Desk at Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive

The random debris, the crap PC, the lovely view of Charlotte Street! Yes, it's my 'workstation' (as I believe desks are called these days) at Saatchi & Saatchi Interactive. I started out being all minimalist with a bare white desk, but, as you can see, that didn't last long. 80 Charlotte Street is considered a key symbol of Saatchi's heritage. I feel like an ASBO candidate moving in and lowering the tone.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This Weekend I' Awe of Churchill

A weekend of not a lot to report. The only significant thing on my mind tonight, as I half-watch Match of the Day 2, is my admiration of Churchill’s rhetoric. The Guardian gave away a little booklet of his ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech yesterday and I enjoyed reading it today. It was delivered to parliament as the British army had escaped from Dunkirk, saved from destruction by a tiniest of margins. It was an utter rout and, if it weren’t for Churchill, I imagine that we would have cut some kind of deal with Hitler.

It’s hard to believe in this era of soundbites and governmental wriggling in a macroeconomic straitjacket that a politician could deliver a magnificent speech on which Britain's fate hinged. Can you imagine Blair saying something that moves you or makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck? I think that living in this era of pygmies makes Churchill’s achievement even more awe-inspiring. We can barely imagine standing on the edge such a national precipice or having a leader who could inspire us to leap, not knowing whether we would survive as a people.

This leads me to a further thought – if we faced the Nazis now, would we be willing to face the sacrifices and privations that Britons stoically accepted in the Second World War? Sadly, I think not – if Hitler offered us free satellite telly and HD TVs, the majority would welcome him with open arms.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Boner Archive

I've put all the Boner and Spout cartoons in one place for the first time. Go and get some creative advice and inspiration now!

Visit the Boner blog

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

IT Dept. Hell: I'm a Living Typo

My IT department appears to have a problem with my name. They started out by setting up my email address under the surname ‘Fitzpatrick’ (I suppose they thought if it was vaguely like ‘Fitzgerald’ it’d do – after all, they’re both Irish surnames. I’m surprised I didn’t end up with O’Flannigan). Now, with our migration to Lotus Notes, they’ve got my Christian name wrong. Apparently my name is ‘Tristian’. I pointed out the error to the IT guy when he came round to install Notes, but I have massive doubts over whether they’ll correct the mistake by the time we go over to the new email client on Friday. So I’ll either have to put up with having no email (it took a week to correct the last cock-up) or change my name by deedpoll.

You could say that it’s my fault for having a poncey name, but I can’t help what my mother chose to call me. I’ve been entertained by a dizzying array of misspellings or mispronunciations over the years. Christian, Tristrum, Tristran, Christan, Trixton. My water company thinks my name is Tristran Fitzgerlad. East Londoners have difficulties saying Tristan. My friend Louis from Romford, after 7 years, STILL calls me ‘Tristjian’.

Given this history of name typos, it’s hardly surprising that my IT dept. have got a bit confused. Thank god I’m not Sri Lankan – I’d love to see how they coped if my name were Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What if…Steve Jobs were British and Jonathan Ive American?

I love those comic book parallel world stories...

You know the kind of thing: “What if Wolverine was a cross-dresser?”, “What if Batman was in the Beatles? (Would they then be ‘the Battles’?)”, “What Doctor Doom had three legs and a pet octopus named Dave?”

Well, I thought on the train this morning, let’s apply that kind of alternative dimension thinking to Apple. What would happen if Steve Jobs were a Brit? And, equally intriguing – what if Jonathan Ive were a yank? Here are my conclusions…

The iconic Apple design would be a little…different

If you look at US product design – say Ford sportscars, the Xbox 360 or (hoho) the Zune – it’s very clear that the aesthetic, to put it politely, doesn’t quite have the same minimalist chic appeal as the current Apple product line. It’s all about bulk and muscle. So let us imagine a Jonathan Ive born in Chattanooga, rather than Chingford. First of all, I expect his name would be Jon-Bob Ive. I also suspect that his design for the new MacBooks would look like this:

Eyecatching, certainly. Elegant? As an elephant doing the fandango on crystal meth...

And those keynotes wouldn’t be quite the same

You can say what you like about us Brits, but you could never accuse us of being overly cocky. We don’t really do the whole ‘I’m great and my product is fuckin’ fantastic!’ thing. In fact, we’d rather die than ‘big ourselves up’. Think Hugh Grant in ‘Micky Blue Eyes’ (or any of his other films). It isn’t a cliché – it’s ALL True. So Sir Steven Jobs the Englishman wouldn’t do the ‘just one more thing’ part of his keynote in the same way. You’d be expecting an anti-climax and then, by god, you’d get one. Rather than “"Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is...", Sir Steven would tell us: “Er…we’ve got this product and it’s quite good I suppose. It’s…erm..a phone and it does other things too. And here it – er – is…”

The conclusion

Business disaster. Utter ruin. We’d live in a world where the Zune is the MP3 player to be seen with and Dell PCs are cutting edge design. A grim vision I know – thank god it’s only in my imagination…

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Changed My Life

I was saddened to learn that Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. He’ll always be known for 'Slaughterhouse-Five', but I’ll never forget the impact that another of his books had on my childhood imagination.

When I was about 12, I have no idea why I chose it, but I borrowed 'Slapstick’ from the public library in Leamington Spa and it blew my mind. I think I may have thought it was straight Sci-Fi from the blurb – particularly the main character living the ruins of the Empire State Building. I discovered pretty quickly that it was so much more – both stylistically and in terms of sheer imagination. The narrative is episodic and non-linear, which was something new to me at the time. And Vonnegut, as he does in so many of his novels, threw out surreal amazing ideas left, right and centre – I particularly remember the entire Chinese population being reduced to microscopic size – so that, in the end, they infect people who inhale them.

Being a creative magpie, I began to work those sorts of motifs into my stories. I think Vonnegut freed me from my restricted expectations of what fiction could be.

His writing style will always stay with me – irreverent, bemused, very human and yet displaying an almost autistic detachment at the same time. He shifts our perspective on the things we take for granted in our society and reveals their absurdity. For that his novels should always be treasured.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ben Elton Get a Grip Crapness Mystery Boggle-Poser

When did Ben Elton become crap? Was it after his 60th shit novel? Or after he decided to become the nation’s sanctimonious leftie conscience? Indeed, did Ben Elton become crap or was he always crap and it just took us a while to realise? Admittedly this isn’t a philosophical question that would bewitch Wittgenstein, but having endured the ads for ‘Get a Grip’ I feel I need answers. The bit that really makes me wince is when his young female sidekick says a line relating to his age/her youth and he pulls a face of aghast bemusement. The expression reminds me of nothing less than the face that my baby son pulls when he’s doing a poo-poo. Is Ben Elton so old that he's dropping one in his colostomy bag? The mind, as it so often does these days, boggles.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Crap Cycle Lane on the Euston Road Redux

Tom, who writes the 'Crap cycle lanes of Croydon' blog, has asked me to show my crap cycle lane on the Euston Road. Only too happy to oblige, Tom - although I'm beginning to suspect you're slightly autistic. By the way, it's 25 FEET long - not 25m. So it's even crapper than previously reported...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Virgin Media Problems Vex as Uma Thurman Beguiles

Virgin Media is continuing to infuriate me (see my previous difficulties with the idiots here). They’ve continued to take money from my bank account for my previous contract – alongside the payment for the upgraded contract. So, in other words, I’m paying for my broadband connection twice.

So I just rang up to sort the situation out. Went through endless automated menus. Got fucking cut off before talking to anyone. Twice. It’s utterly maddening. If anything the customer service from the old NTL was better.

On top of that, you need a pin-code in order to access any of the much-advertised on-demand TV services. A pin-code that was never at any point supplied. I haven’t even tried to sort that one out…

Oh, Virgin Media you prettily-painted (the advertising) syphilitic whore (the reality)!

A warning to the unwary new potential customer – don’t be taken in by Uma Thurman and her beguiling promises. It’s all a pack of lies, I tell you.

Pitches, Carbon Footprints and the End of Civilisation

Today is being spent anxiously waiting for the results of a pitch we did yesterday. It was the worst kind of pitch, as it was via a pan-European conference call. Not only could we not see any reaction from our audience, but we couldn’t sure they were even following what the hell we were telling them. On the plus side, I suppose it’s going to have a smaller carbon footprint than flying everyone to the same place.

Mind you, I’m already getting sick of hearing about carbon footprints. I think it’ll be the expression that defines our woeful decade, as everyone goes on their carbon footprint getting smaller, as they carry on consuming as much pointless shit as ever and capitalism fucks over the planet. But at least they can feel good about themselves because they’re driving a fucking Prius.

Ah well, at least we won’t be hearing about it after the total collapse of civilisation. The only footprints we’ll be worrying about then will be those of cannibal barbarians as they pursue us through the ruins.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Euston Road Cycle Joy

Wobbling along the Euston Road on my folding bike to my new workplace is never a pleasant experience. Especially as the taxi drivers appear to trying out for the David Carradine part in Deathrace 2000 (except an elephant seal gut and bottletop glasses doesn’t make for a very charismatic sci-fi villain). However, my cycle to Charlotte Street did at least raise a smile this morning. Why? Because I passed the most laughably pointless cycle lane in London.

It runs apologetically for about 25 metres from opposite the British Library to the next junction along and consists of a poorly painted band about 1 foot wide. It’s of no use to a cyclist, the layout of the road hasn’t been changed to accommodate it and I doubt motorists even notice it. All of which begs one question. Why the hell is it there?

OK, this is my theory…

Camden Council was either given a target by government to create a certain mileage of cycle lanes or made a commitment to the local electorate to do so. Knowing the bureaucratic mentality, rather than an expensive co-ordinated network of proper cycle lanes that might actually improve the life expectancy of riders, there are probably hundreds of cheap silly 25m long painted lanes dotted throughout the borough.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Civilization 3 Addiction in Turquoise

Apologies to my reader for the lack of blog this week (as if it affects your quality of life). I’ve been taking a bit of time to relax and enjoy the rather snow-flecked spring in WGC. I had kind of promised myself that I’d redecorate our turquoise living room (including the removal of the curtains with PELMETS. What a great word that is. Pelmet. Sounds like a newly discovered genital organ. “Ohhh, me prolapsed pelmet’s givin’ me gip today!”) However, as it is, I’ve only daubed the walls with the contents of 8 paint sampler pots and stuck 6 wallpaper samples up. My motivation ran out midway through. Due in no small part to my continuing addiction to Civilization 3.

At least I have the small comfort that Iain Banks is also addicted to the same game. After 3 months of solid Civ, he had to go cold turkey - smashing the CD and deleting all files – to get his latest novel written. Jesus, if I worked at home I’d probably have to do the same thing…

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vicious Imagery: 28 Days of 2000 AD #1.1: Pat Mills Unplugged

Vicious Imagery: 28 Days of 2000 AD #1.1: Pat Mills Unplugged

Last Day at Rufus Leonard: Clearing Out Steptoe's Yard

Today’s my last day at Rufus Leonard and I feel positively wistful. I’ve only been at this agency for a year, but I’ve done work that I’m proud of, learned a huge amount and worked with people I respect. You can’t ask for much more from a job, really. What I especially like about Rufus is the lack of big egos. Even mine was muzzled most of the time!

I also met a creative director, Steve, whose desk looks even more like Steptoe’s Yard than mine. However, as usual, the junk has built up over the year.

Me and Steve sort through our stuff

So I decided to sort it all out before the day got going. Here’s what’s gone into my holdall:

  • 1 Lomo camera case
  • 1 Daks flatcap (brown)
  • 1 Creative PC speaker system
  • A pair of Asics trainers
  • 1 Victorian ceremonial short sword
  • 1 fetid gym-kit
  • 26 copies of 2000ad
  • 5 Guardian wall-chart posters
  • 1 Fusion art book
  • 1 Clint Eastwood postcard
  • The original drawings for the cartoons on this blog
  • 4 Amos In-Crowd ICWF wrestlers
  • 2 Japanese 3Age Marvel superhero figures: the silver Surfer and Daredevil
  • 1 Ringo Starr & 1 Blue Meanie
  • 1 Cylon Warrior
  • 1 Japanese Doctor Doom figure
  • A pair of Sony headphones
  • 1 book about rats

So it’s ‘goodbye Rufus’ and ‘hello Saatchi & Saatchi’. Maybe I’ll consider going minimalist at my next workstation…